Dear Kathie ~
I can’t think about some of the very best parts of my childhood and not think about you. You were present in so many moments and memories. I would not be the person I am today without you. Really, I wouldn’t. Kids learn empathy and understanding through their experiences and you gave me so much at such a young age. I would actually get in fights with people if they used the word “retard” in my presence. Retard might as well have been the f-word in my house.
I have met a lot of retarded people in my lifetime, but I can tell you not a one of them was as innocent and sweet and pure and loving as you. Not one.
One of the very first posts I ever wrote on this blog was about you. The Red Panty Distraction of 1978. I still can’t read it without laughing. And well, today … laughing though tears.
I remember when I first began to realize that you were different from me. Your mind was different, your ability to learn was different … your olympics were different. Remembering that time with you today is so incredibly special for me. I can’t tell you how blessed I am to have it and how much richer my life is for it. I am a better human being because of knowing and loving you. I hope I can pass that on to Jackson and James.
I knew you were different because everyone told me you were. But it took me a long time to believe you were really different. I just thought you had never had the right teacher. I would get out books and make charts and try to teach you the things I was learning. You could spell your name. I was convinced it was only a matter of time before you could spell mine.
During that time of complete innocence for both of us, I saw you as one of my very best friends. When we would go to bed each night in the summer, you would tell me you were getting married and you were having a baby and you were going to work. I believed you. In fact, I wanted to help you. I loved going to school with you and meeting all of your friends. You were so proud to show me off to everyone, calling me Tige just like Mawmaw.
You were born in a time, sweet Kathie, before it was applauded by society for you to be the face of a Target advertisement. You were taken to public school in 1955 and sent home. You were born at a time before every cause (and non-cause) had a banner and a constituency. Mawmaw and your Daddy drove anywhere and everywhere to find out why their beautiful infant baby girl suddenly began having grand mal seizures. And never stopped having them. They could be controlled but at the cost of your spirit. When they were under control you were so doped up it was hard to find Kathie in there.
Mawmaw liked you smiling and feisty and telling everyone, “You just don’t know!!” We all did. I love telling people they just don’t know because of you. Because honestly, most of the time they don’t. We’re all just blowin’ smoke a good chunk of the time — at least you had enough sense to call it like it was.
I think Mawmaw chose to move to the middle of nowhere so she could give you and her some peace from the judgment of others. I never heard her say that, but looking back, it makes sense. She took you and Annie up to the top of a hill, built a house and enrolled you in a special school. She lived life on her own terms for as long as she could. She probably toyed with your medicine too much because she hated it when you were doped up, so the seizures got harder and harder — and falls became more frequent. The seizures were finally winning.
I’ve never judged Mawmaw for anything concerning your care because I was not the one who gave birth in 1949 to a beautiful baby girl named Kathie. When I think about the same situation for Jackson or James … well, I can tell you I would go to the ends of the earth to give them the best life I knew how to give. And that’s what she did.
Despite the hand life dealt you, you made friends everywhere you went. You loved company. I remember when I was a kid, everywhere we would go, you would practically tell a stranger on the street to, “Come to Arkansas!” “Come for supper!” if you thought they were worthy. Basically if they engaged you, they were worthy … if they ignored you, well …
You knew how to read people probably better than anyone ever gave you credit for. You knew when they accepted you and when they didn’t. When they didn’t a supper invitation was off the table.
I know from talking to Mom that many of the aids at the nursing home took it as their personal mission to watch over you. Especially Sara. I know we’re not the only ones mourning your sweet spirit today.
Even though you were born at a time when young children with special needs were not welcome into the folds of society, your family always did. Your Mamaw Wines, your parents and your sisters were always there for you. For the past several years your K.K. has watched over you since the day you moved to Hot Springs. She watched you bounce back time and time again … until you just couldn’t anymore.
Today I thought a lot about how I wish I could have done more to help. What if I was closer? Less busy? Could I have been there more for you, my sweet childhood buddy? My aunt. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know one thing.
There is nothing. And I mean nothing I could have done for you that would even begin to repay what you gave me just by being a part of my life. All of our lives. We are all better for having known you and loved you.
You, Kathie Slaughter, are the purest soul I ever knew. I know that even if all the rest of us are going straight to hell, there is a heaven up there waiting for you. There has to be. You are one of the angels sent to teach us and today you went home.